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Keywords:

  • microbial ecology;
  • gastrointestinal;
  • denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis

Abstract

Weaning is a stressful process for kittens and is often associated with diarrhoea and the onset of infectious diseases. The gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota plays an essential role in host well-being, including improving homoeostasis. Composition of the GI microbiota of young cats is poorly understood and the impact of diet on the kitten microbiota unknown. The aims of this study were to monitor the faecal microbiota of kittens and determine the effect(s) of diet on its composition. Bacterial succession was monitored in two groups of kittens (at 4 and 6 weeks, and 4 and 9 months of age) fed different foods. Age-related microbial changes revealed significantly different counts of total bacteria, lactic acid bacteria, Desulfovibrionales, Clostridium cluster IX and Bacteroidetes between 4-week- and 9-month-old kittens. Diet-associated differences in the faecal microbiota of the two feeding groups were evident. In general, fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis demonstrated bifidobacteria, Atopobium group, Clostridium cluster XIV and lactic acid bacteria were dominant in kittens. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis profiling showed highly complex and diverse faecal microbiotas for kittens, with age- and/or food-related changes seen in relation to species richness and similarity indices. Four-week-old kittens harboured more diverse and variable profiles than those of weaned kittens.